To Fix LA’s Water, Garcetti Must Stop DWP’s Wasteful Water Tunnel Tax

WATER POLITICS--California may be coming out of the drought, but LA’s water system is in dire need of fixing. Angelenos will soon be asked to pay more for their water and they must stay alert to ensure their money is being invested wisely and not wasted on projects for special interests. 

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is set to make its customers pay higher rates and taxes for a project misleadingly named the “California Water Fix.” This project involves building two massive water tunnels underneath the San Joaquin Delta in Northern California and could cost $25-67 billion. 

The tunnels are supported by an alliance of corporate agribusinesses and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), a wholesaler provider that makes money from importing and selling water. 

The tunnels would funnel massive amounts of water to Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick’s agribusiness empire, whose businesses use more water every year than all the homes in Los Angeles combined. The Resnicks, owners of the Wonderful Company, and their agribusiness allies have gamed the state’s water system to grow excessive amounts of pistachios and almonds in the desert and now they want ratepayers and taxpayers to pay for multi-billion dollar tunnels to keep their scheme going. 

Governor Brown, a longtime friend of agribusiness, is now working to persuade the Trump administration, to greenlight the project. President Trump cozied up to these same special interests in his campaign stops in California. 

The real sucker punch is that the project would not deliver a single drop of new water to Los Angeles. Yet, MWD would charge ratepayers and taxpayers in L.A., Compton, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and other Southern California cities for this boondoggle. An independent analysis found that if the tunnels project were to only cost $25 billion, Angelenos would be stuck $1.6- $3.5 billion of the total cost. And that’s the low end of cost projections. 

For LA to be prepared for the next drought, the solution is not to build tunnels that can’t create new water, but to invest in projects that would maximize our local supply and adapt to the effects of climate change. Mayor Garcetti introduced an Executive Directive to make our water safer from earthquakes and climate impacts by 2024, by calling on LADWP to reduce its dependence on imported water, and to increase local water sources. This includes capturing rainwater, recycling water, cleaning up polluted water and augmenting groundwater storage. A one-inch rain storm can produce up to 10 billion gallons of water, and in an average year, Los Angeles wastes more than 500,000 acre-feet of storm water that runs off to the ocean— which is almost the annual water supply of the City of Los Angeles. 

Water experts estimate that it would cost LA County $300-$500 million a year to build the local infrastructure that would capture more rain. In addition, a proposed water recycling facility could provide another 400,000 acre-feet per year of water for the region. That means the best way to increase the reliability of our water is to invest here in Los Angeles, not in tunnels hundreds of miles away. 

Indeed, the only way Mayor Garcetti can follow through on his plan to cut Los Angeles’ dependence on imported water by half over the next seven years is to make sure not a dime of our DWP bills does towards to building the ill-conceived tunnels. 

MWD and agribusiness are funding a spin campaign to sell the tunnels. They even make the claim that these tunnels could help save endangered fish populations. This Orwellian argument was squelched by a recent federal study that showed that the tunnels could decimate the struggling wild salmon population. 

The tunnels can only be stopped if Southern Californians rise up and refuse to pay for this scam, reminiscent of the film Chinatown. Mayor Garcetti must protect ratepayers and prevent LADWP from wasting our money on the tunnels. The Mayor must act soon, as the Metropolitan Water District has stated it hopes to secure a rate and tax hike for the project as soon as this summer. 

A more reliable LA water system that can withstand the serious impacts of climate change is possible and necessary, but we have to invest in proven local and regional infrastructure now. There is no money to waste to satisfy the greed of special interests.


(Brenna Norton is a senior Southern California organizer with Food & Water Watch.) prepped for CityWatch By Linda Abrams.